If my mother was alive today, it would be her 86th Birthday. It is not just because of her birthday that I am reminded of her today, but her first names were Norah Annunicata.
She was given the name Annunicata, as she was born on the feast day of the Annunciation. Today.
My mother was taken home to God 24 years ago. She was a simple and prayerful woman, born in Limerick and like many others had to leave the country to find work.
Annunicata is an Italian name that means announcement.
While that date represents a lot to me personally, the date means even more to us collectively as Christians. The date today is exactly nine months before Christmas Day, the birthday of our Lord. Mary is given explicit instructions by the Angel Gabriel during this momentous event.
Imagine an angel coming to visit a young Jewish girl and announcing” Hail, full of Grace! The Lord is with you.”
When Gabriel said this, he did not just mean, the Lord is with you, he meant, the Lord IS with you! She now is carrying the most precious cargo of all time.
Gabriel goes on to ensure that Mary understands that this will be no ordinary child and she has been selected for no ordinary mission. He tells Mary to name him Jesus, which in Hebrew means “God saves”.
Jesus is the savior promised in the Old Testament reading this morning from Isiah, and Mary is the Ark of the New Covenant, there to carry and care for Him right to the end of his mission.
Even His name tells us how important this is, with his identity revealed as God, and his mission to save mankind from sin.
The name of Jesus is at the heart of our Christian prayer. All liturgical prayers conclude with the words “through our Lord Jesus Christ”. The Hail Mary reaches its high point in the words “blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.” The Eastern prayer of the heart, the Jesus prayer, says: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Many Christians, such as St. Joan of Arc, have died with the one word “Jesus” on their lips.
My personal centering prayer consists only of the words “I love you Lord Jesus”. We cannot say it enough in our lives, as each time we remind ourselves in our heart of his love, his mission, his name. Like a little signature on our heart each time it is repeated.
Gabriel then continued to describe in detail what was going to happen to Mary.
Do not be afraid, Mary,
for you have found favor with God.
Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son,”
He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High,
and the Lord God will give him the throne of David his father,
and he will rule over the house of Jacob forever,
and of his Kingdom there will be no end.”
Can you imagine being there when Mary heard these words? While she knew she did not have relations with a man, she didn’t understand how she was going to be bearing a child.
Then, as she is told the Holy Spirit will come upon her, and she will be with child.
What is so amazing in these few lines of the Gospel, describing how Mary is being selected amongst all women for this role, that the whole of salvation history is unfolding before her eyes.
The promised of the Old Testament are being fulfilled.
Therefore the Lord himself will give you this sign:
the virgin shall be with child, and bear a son,
and shall name him Emmanuel,
which means “God is with us!”
What more perfect love could be given us, than God coming among us himself. Not only to redeem, but to instruct, to teach, to love in a new way, the way of forgiveness, the way of compassion, the way of enduring and everlasting love.
Here Mary listens, asks a simple question and then accepts fully the task given her.
Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.
May it be done to me according to your word.”
Then the angel departed from her.
Could there not be a more perfect model for us to follow than Mary herself. Selfless in nature, ready to do God’s will, without further question, just following the instructions of God with a totally pure and ready heart.
God could have redeemed us in any way he wanted, but what could have been more purposeful, meaningful, loving than the path he took and presented Mary to us as a model to follow in our own lives.
Let us hope that we grow in nature more like her each day, to accept whatever is asked of us, and to do His will.